Best of Florence

Continue reading “Best of Florence”

A love letter to Tuscany

Sunny fields in Tuscany, Italy
Sunny fields in Tuscany, Italy

My dearest Tuscany

What a kind welcome I received upon entering your lands! The weather felt like an embrace full of warmth and affection. A wonderful way to greet I must say. Summer really suits you well. I couldn’t help but blush a little now and then as the sun left faint kisses on my cheeks.

You gave me everything I had ever hoped for in a vacation. A relaxed vibe, laid-back culture and my favorite cuisine in abundance. Endless varieties of delicious wines, bounties of freshest and the best tasting fruits, and a dizzying amount of art collection. I stumbled upon art when I least expected it. Thank you for giving me the best surprises at every turn.

My heart skipped quite a few beats when I caught the first few glimpses of your countryside through a train window. But when I laid my eyes on the full blown versions of the living landscapes, I stopped breathing altogether. The sight of your rolling hills covered in endless carpets of untamed and vibrant green pastures left me speechless. Brightly hued wildflowers looked like scattered studs after being showered in the morning mist, while the little droplets lay nestled in their petals glistened under the Tuscan sun. Perched atop one of the hills, was a stonewalled house, lonely yet cheerful. The view knocked me out of breath.

I dropped to the ground, laid my head in your lap, closed my eyes shut, took a deep breath and felt a tide of tranquility wash over me. I was home. If I could choose a place to rest my soul in peace, it would be right here, in your evergreen womb.

Oh Tuscany, you really did spoil me for choices. Within your boundaries, I feasted on some of the finest Italian delicacies ever. I devoured some of the sweetest peaches ever known to mankind. I would dare to go as far to call them borderline orgasmic. The Tuscan staple bread, soup and pastas satisfied my ever hungry belly. Thank you for nourishing my soul as well as my body with pleasurable experiences that revived, and somehow heightened, all of my senses. You are truly well endowed with nature’s bounty.

Every morning you woke me up to an irresistible aroma of rich, dark coffee bubbling away in a moka maker. Every evening you treated me to copious doses of Chianti and Brunello paired with just the right cheese, olives and cold-cuts. I appreciate every little thing you offered me. Even the opportunity to take languorous walks amid olive groves and unbound vineyards. And no less the opportunity to witness some of the oldest and best museums in the western world. You are blessed with some impressive architecture, exquisite sculptures and magnificent paintings.
The culture, traditions and heritage you behold is what makes you great. You nurtured these things, fortified some and cultivated many more. Where do you find the strength to give that much, to love that much?

You never let me down. Never once did I feel disappointed in you. And for that, I want to express my gratitude and love for you, Tuscany. There’s no question about forgetting you because that’s a lost cause. I don’t think anything can diminish the emotions you evoked in me. You have ignited an unfading passion in me.
For that and everything else, Thank you!

Yours lovingly,
S

Even before visiting Italy, I revealed to anyone who’d hear me, that I secretly dreamt about living in the Italian countryside some day. Why you ask? I was utterly enchanted by all that I had read and watched about Italy. I invited some baffled looks on that but I understood the reason behind it. People naturally concluded I was insane to think about living in a foreign country when I hadn’t even stepped out of my hometown ever. I had no travel experience whatsoever. Nevertheless, I was determined to take that leap sooner than later. When the opportunity came, I grabbed it with both hands. And I’m glad I made the most of it.
I found it difficult to pen down my feelings about all that I experienced in Italy, particularly Tuscany. It didn’t feel right to call it a memoir. Because all I want is to express my love and gratitude to this dream land. A love letter felt more appropriate to do that.
A love letter to Tuscany.

Day trip to Pisa

One to two days is a good enough time to spend in Pisa. Generally, people make it a day trip from Florence because it’s convenient and all everybody wants to see is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. If that’s what you’re planning to do as well, you’ll find this itinerary very useful. Read ahead.

Before trip

Everything you must know BEFORE visiting The Leaning Tower of Pisa can be found on the official website here. Check the timings, available slots and ticket prices.
Buy your tickets from the website, print them and carry a photo ID along. Stuff your daypack with water bottles, snacks, hats, sunglasses and sunblock, especially if you’re visiting during summer. Tuscan summers can get pretty hot. Wear comfy sneakers because the complex is huge and there’s a lot of walking to be done.
Best to carry purses/bags that will stay put on your chest instead of your back. Lots of thieves on the prowl at every tourist attraction.
Pisa is best reached by train from Florence or Livorno. For Eurail pass holders, regional trains are included in the pass. However, some trains have mandatory reservations, so check before you book. We traveled by the Trenitalia train ‘Livorno Centrale’ from Firenze SMN that stops at Stazione Pisa Centrale.

Campo Santo
Campo Santo

Itinerary

  • Board the 7AM train to Pisa from Florence SMN. It’s a 50 mins journey through rural Tuscany with beautiful glimpses of endless vineyards and olive groves.
  • Board a bus from Stazione Pisa Centrale to Piazza Dei Miracoli or Square of Miracles. that’s where the Leaning Tower and rest of the monuments are located. It’s at a 3km distance from the station. Get down at Via Bonanno 113 right across from the complex entrance.
  • Grab a coffee and pastry for breakfast from a nearby cafe and head to the complex entrance. It opens at 9am but it get’s pretty crowded. Avoid buying any souvenirs from the vendors outside the complex, they’ll get overcharge you.
    If you want a free pass to the cathedral, make sure you pick that up at the ticket office on site.
Leaning Tower of Pisa
Leaning Tower of Pisa
  • Enter the complex at 9 am and the first thing you should do, if you absolutely want to, join the rest of the crowd in taking a picture with the Leaning Tower in whatever pose you wish to – hugging the tower, pushing the tower, holding the tower. It’s going to look funny but you won’t be the only one doing that. Hundreds of people take pictures in same poses all around you but if you make it early, you’ll at least get a decent picture sans the crowd. People queue up for spots to take pictures in.
  • Go straight to the tower and head up to the top. It takes about 30 minutes to see the tower. Appreciate the fact that you’re standing inside what was one of the wonders of the world.
  • Now you have the day free to visit rest of the monuments int he complex. Head to the cathedral and see it from inside. The interiors of the cathedral left me speechless and awestruck. Every single cathedral across Italy is gorgeous. See it for yourself.
  • There are public restrooms next to Campo Santo. Find shade and take a break from the scorching sun. You’ll find people sitting on the lawn behind the cathedral and having picnic of sorts. Break into your stash of snacks and drinks. Replenish those energy levels.
Incredible ceiling art in the Cathedral
Incredible ceiling art in the Cathedral
  • If you have purchased tickets to the other monuments, make your way to Campo Santo, cemetery. There’s an exhibit of ancient sculptures, tapestries, scriptures and other artifacts, in the halls around the cemetery. The way every little thing has been preserved for ages, is noteworthy.
  • During my visit, the Opera del Duomo Museum was closed for renovation so I didn’t get a chance to see it.
  • The Baptistry is the monument at the very beginning of the complex. What I loved the most about it is it’s unique structure. How beautiful are those intricate carvings on the dome!
  • Take one last look at the complex and make your way out. If you wish to stay until evening, catch a bus to Pisa downtown by Arno river. Wander around Ponte di Mezzo bridge and soak in the Tuscan culture.
  • If you wish to return to Florence directly from Square of Miracles, walk to Torre 1 Bus stop on Via Giovanni Battista Niccolini to board a bus back to Stazione Pisa Centrale. Embark upon your return train journey.

Tick off the ‘Leaning Tower of Pisa’ from your bucketlist.

The Ultimate Guide to Plan a Trip to Venice, Italy

Continue reading “The Ultimate Guide to Plan a Trip to Venice, Italy”

How to spend a day in Milano

Having a stopover in Milan? Or just making a quick getaway? I have an ideal 24-hour itinerary drawn up in detail from my personal experience. If you’re anything like me, you’ll end up having a great time. Here’s how to spend a perfect day in Milan.

Continue reading “How to spend a day in Milano”

Italy by train

Europe proudly boasts of its wide rail network and rightly so. We travelled the entire western Europe by train and had the most amazing time doing that. The best part is, trains are one of the cheapest and fastest modes of transportation in Europe. Comfortable seating, easy access to luggage racks, convenient schedules and no luggage restrictions made train travel an obvious choice of transportation for us. Are you thinking of traveling to Italy?

Continue reading “Italy by train”

Experiencing the best of Brussels for FREE

I had an impression, for only god-known reasons, that Brussels is an unusual vacation destination. I expected a low key city vibe, dispersed tourists mainly comprising of the backpacker species. Maybe a restaurant here and there, a few decent shops and some handcarts selling waffles. Hoping to imbibe the World War history, I headed towards Brussels. But when I actually set foot in this city, I was proven wrong , oh-so-wrong, by the swarm of tourists I encountered everywhere. And not just that, the carefully preserved architecture (at least the grandiose facade), the opulent shopping malls and palatial Cathedrals, all of these were like a slap in my face to awaken me from my insipid imagination. What was I thinking?

Continue reading “Experiencing the best of Brussels for FREE”

The Ultimate Travel Guide to Paris

If I had a nickel for every time I saw a romantic movie scene shot in Paris, I’d be a millionaire! Seriously though, there’s something about Paris that resurrects the dormant romantic in you.
Paris travel plans are always exciting especially for the first timers who can’t wait to get up the Eiffel Tower. Traveling to a destination like Paris should be, in my opinion, smooth and surreal. It should feel like the dreams you’ve been having about a Parisian escape.

Continue reading “The Ultimate Travel Guide to Paris”